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McDonald’s out-smarts San Francisco’s toy banners

Tomorrow San Francisco's "Healthy Food Incentive Ordinance" - which prohibits restaurants from providing free toys with meals unless the food meets its guidelines - comes into effect. The city government passed this law about a year ago, and  it mainly targets McDonald's, which provides a free toy with every one of its Happy Meals.

Will this mean the end of kids' toys with meals? No. McDonald's has announced that it will introduce a ten cents charge for the toy, the proceeds from which will go to its charity, Ronald McDonald House.  This will ensure that people keep buying Happy Meals with toys, and makes the San Francisco killjoys look dumb and flat-footed.

The background to this is that liberal-led San Francisco is the most ban-happy city in the country. In a trenchant criticism, Benjamin Wachs and Joe Eskenazi note:

In recent years, San Francisco government has passed numerous laws to make us healthier, greener, and — in the city's eyes — all-around better people. Whether we like it or not. This includes banning the sale of cigarettes in drugstores, and, later, supermarkets; banning plastic bags in large chain stores; banning bottled water in City Hall, and the sale of soft drinks on government property; banning the declawing of cats; making composting mandatory; and forbidding city departments from doing business with companies that were involved in the (pre–Civil War) slave trade, yet haven't publicly atoned.

But San Francisco is only leading a pack of other cities, such as New York, Chicago and Seattle, that have taken it upon themselves to regulate people's lifestyles.

Eric Mar, the city supervisor who sponsored the ordinance, appeared unfazed by McDonalds' move, according to a report in the Washington Post:

The goal of the law was not to micromanage fast-food chains but to raise awareness about the nutritional content of the food, he said, pointing to McDonald’s switch to apples and smaller portions of french fries in Happy Meals as an example of the success of the law. “We feel that our efforts to create healthier options forced the industry to acknowledge their role in childhood obesity,” he said.

This is revealing. Mar and his fellow board members know that these are only token gestures to "raise awareness", and that they won't really have a significant impact on how people respond to the issue itself. But they still want to send relentless propaganda messages that seek to define what is acceptable behavior. Any specific issue - like kids' toys - is hard to get worked up about in opposition because it is so tokenistic; but the drip, drip, drip effect of all these bans makes the act of regulation seem normal, rather than seeing it for what it is: a local government crossing the line and making an unacceptable power grab.

As I argued in an earlier post, the ban on fast-food toys is really an attack on the idea of parental authority. In the name of fighting a so-called "obesity epidemic", the state steps in and oversees children's diets, thus pushing out parents, who should be the ones in charge.

When Eric Mar introduces his bill last year, he said it was needed because the "pester power" of his preteen daughter was too hard for him to withstand, and he would break down and let her have a Happy Meal. But just because he can't exercise his authority over his own daughter it doesn't mean that all parents in San Francisco should be subjected to state control over a basic life decision such as where and what to eat.

For more background on the story, check out the video below from Newsy.

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